Reflections

These “reflections” constitute diverse thoughts the writer explored with his students as a teacher in a period spanning eighteen years, in Canada and in Malaysia. They were first published under the title Second Thoughts in 1999, in Canada.

The writer arrived in Malaysia in 1987, to teach in the Canadian Matriculation Program at Taylor’s College (1987 to 1989 and 1990 to 1991). After two years in Canada, he returned to Malaysia in 1993, where he taught at Sunway College (1993 to 1998).

After another year in Canada, he continued at Sunway in 1999. In 2002 he joined the Islamic Science University of Malaysia. In 2008 he joined IAIS Malaysia, where he remained until 2017.

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Reflections

Preface

Why Write?

We are faced with either of two alternatives: remaining silent or speaking out. Neither alternative is without risks. Yet the risks of remaining silent appear to be greater than the risks of speaking out.

The quality of much of the available information is questionable. Where does a young person go today to find true guidance? Is there a difference between right and wrong? This book is intended for those readers who seek answers to these and related questions.

It is surprising how few people, including persons in the academic world, thousands of scholars, focus on these questions.

Morality and Religion

A reason why these questions are not raised much is the view that these questions have to do with morality and religion, and the responsibility for religion is strictly private. Thus we expect parents to teach their children the difference between right and wrong.

But what happens if the parents themselves do not know, or do not care about, the difference between right and wrong, good and evil?

If the parents will not or cannot teach their children, and if government-funded public schools refuse to teach morality and religion, who will?

Education

Ethics cannot be separated from education. Trying to separate them is akin to teaching a person how to drive a car without teaching him or her how to follow traffic signs.

Freedom and Ethics

People require education in ethics especially in western states, precisely because much freedom is available there. In authoritarian regimes, young people are taught to accept, more or less unquestioningly, their parents’ and their communities’ ideas of right and wrong.

Without knowing this difference, they are not in a position to say no to what is wrong and yes to what is right. This puts them at a high degree of risk.

Moral Disorientation

The result of the failure to provide moral and religious education is that many people have become demoralized. Partly as a result of moral disorientation, many waste away in sex, drugs, and entertainment. They use up their best energy in these activities, while they should be equipping themselves for their future. It is regrettable that young people neglect themselves in this way. What is inexcusable is that many adults, parents and professionals, especially educators, are letting this happen without so much as raising a whisper. What is the solution? We need to go back to our heritage, because it provides us with values. We can do this by starting to ask some questions again, questions that we have stopped asking.

Instead of building faster machines and exploring space in the universe, we need to pay more attention to the problems of crime, drug addiction, homelessness, unemployment, indebtedness abandonment, disintegration of communities, and demoralization.

Foreword

About the author

These “reflections” comprise a record of diverse “extracurricular thoughts” the author had in teaching  for eighteen years, in Canada and in Malaysia.

Perhaps it is not inappropriate to share them with the wider public where the greater part of the teaching took place, Malaysia.

The writer was raised in Czechoslovakia, his birthplace. He migrated to Canada in 1968, and received his higher education there. He arrived in Malaysia in 1987, to joined the Canadian Matriculation Program at Taylor’s College (1987 to 1989 and 1990 to 1991).

After a two year phase in Canada, he returned to Malaysia in 1993. There he taught in the Canadian Matriculation program at Sunway College (1993 to 1998, and 1999 to 2002). He joined the Islamic Science University of Malaysia in 2002. There he stayed until 2008. Finally, in 2008 he joined IAIS Malaysia as a Research Fellow, where he remained until 2017.

Tradition

Keeping Up with the Times

Becoming and remaining modern requires us to do many things. It requires us to keep on learning all the new technologies that are being constantly invented. It requires us to do everything more quickly. It also means adopting a modern lifestyle. In what ways is a modern lifestyle different from a ‘traditional’ way of life? While we are frequently reminded of the benefits of modernity, not many people ask about its disadvantages.

Modernity and Humanity

The new way of life includes new concepts, technologies, customs and a new language. Scientific thinking and the technologies made possible by modern science have had a profound effect on how we think, and how we relate to people. In order to make progress, science has separated itself from morality. It is clear that progress has made us more modern. But has progress made us more humane?

Where does Tradition End and Modernity Begin?

It is difficult to generalize about something as broad and varied as ‘tradition.’ But this argument can be made about many, if not all generalizations. Every experience is unique. It can therefore never be placed in any single category along with any other experience. This means, however, that we cannot generalize about anything – period.

But if we cannot generalize, we cannot hope to gain understanding and knowledge. All knowledge is expressed in a generalization of one kind or another. To say that we cannot generalize, therefore, is tantamount to saying that we have to give up the quest for all understanding and knowledge.

The Difference­

Traditional communities differ from modern communities, among other things, in that they provide a stronger sense of belonging to its members. The ties that bind modern communities appear to be loose. The difference between a traditional community and a modern one can be seen in the difference between the old-fashioned, extended family on the one hand, and the specifically modern, fragmented family on the other.

Traditional ways of life are rooted in established customs, morals and religion. Heritage is the equivalent of a moral and spiritual home. A person who is willing to abandon his heritage runs the risk of leaving his spiritual home, of becoming spiritually homeless and rootless. Modern man displays a cavalier attitude to heritage and an openness to everything new. The modern outlook is rooted in the conviction that individuals can find their way through life as they go along without the assistance of tradition, including religion.

Tradition places an emphasis on following established, customary ways. The new ways of life are characterized by a willingness to experiment. The modern person likes to try new things, including new lifestyles. Experimentation as such is a part of the legacy of the scientific revolution.

Traditional ways encourage community living. Harmony among members of the traditional societies is very important. Modern persons tend to think of themselves first as individuals and only secondly as members of communities. Formerly, people put a great deal of emphasis on duties. Today we talk mostly about rights and individual self-fulfillment.

The modern person rebels from time to time, possibly because he or she feels enslaved or restricted by something, not the least of which are traditional ways of thinking and living.

Traditional communities place a high degree of emphasis on harmony and consensus. Quarrels are rare in traditional societies. The modern way of interaction is characterized by much confrontation. Lawyers thrive in modern states, while they are practically unheard of in traditional communities.

In traditional communities respecting one’s parents is very important. This is true of a traditional community in any part of the world. In modern societies, parents are not respected nearly as much as they are respected in traditional communities. Some parents may be acting in ways that could be seen as less than respectable.

Religion constitutes the most important part of tradition. Religion calls our attention to God. It advises us to remember God, and to think of Him in the course of our daily life. Religion advises us to pay attention to the teaching of the prophets, and to practice righteousness. Modernity has changed our attitude to religion. It appears to have required becoming religious in a modern way.

Tradition and Language

In order to gain acceptance for new ideas, their proponents feel obliged to discredit the teachings and practices of the past. The language of tradition has been and is being challenged in many ways and from many sources. Traditional language, according to its critics, reflects an outdated understanding of man and his place in the scheme of things. Traditional language, for example, has been accused of being ‘dualistic,’ because it reflects the view that ideas and experiences have opposites.

Technology

Computers

One of the strengths of computers is their ability to record, process, and retrieve vast amounts of information in a short time. Computers also enable people around the world to communicate with each other quickly. Computers make our lives more challenging, interesting, and in some ways perhaps more fulfilling.

Telephones

Communication with the help of telephones is less personal than direct communication. What is the effect of telephones on people’s levels of stress; the sudden interruptions of phones ringing, where the person receiving a call never knows who is at the other end of the line or what kind of message is waiting for him?

Television

To many, cooped up in houses or apartments, a TV is a window on the world.

Television brings us closer to strangers and distances us from immediate family and friends. In this way, it contributes to the decline of communities. In how many households do people talk less to each other because they spend so much time watching television?

Another reason why we watch so much TV is that it requires little effort – just look and listen.

Science

What is Science?

Science is the systematic effort to understand reality; it seeks to explain the way things work, to understand the relationships between different parts of reality. A great part of modern knowledge is classificatory; another part is experimental. The shared element in all science is the search for knowledge.

Reasoning

Reasoning is the process of arriving at true statements from facts and from related statements. Reasoning may proceed deductively. Conclusions are drawn from preceding statements. The statements from which conclusions are drawn are known as premises. The most basic principle is the principle of contradiction. In order to ascertain whether a given conclusion is true, we need to examine the validity of the premises. Next, we need to examine whether the transition from the premises to the conclusion is justified.

Research and Time

There is a tendency, among both scholars and lay people, to assume that more recent research means more authoritative research. This is a prejudice which assumes that something is more true and relevant because it arrives later in time.

Indifference of Science

Present scientific knowledge is morally neutral. Indeed, scientists take pride in abstaining from what they think of as ‘value judgments.’ They believe that abstaining from such judgments increases the integrity, impartiality, and reliability of their conclusions. The products of science can be used for both good and evil purposes.

Generalisations

Generalizations are statements about an entire class of things or experiences. Scientific laws are examples of scientific generalizations; proverbs are examples of generalizations about habits and morals. We place far too much emphasis on the first type of knowledge and not enough on the second type.

Statistics

Statistics claim to give an objective account of subjective experience. Statistical findings are purportedly based on a sample sufficiently large (and therefore representative) as to minimise the possibility of coming to the wrong conclusion. Many views claim to be supported by statistical “studies.” But just how do statistics prove one thing or another? Mostly, surveys of people’s opinions are taken.

Statistics are statements derived from data that is quantifiable. Often surveys are based on assumptions that cannot be validated using the methods of statistics.

Social Science

Relativism teaches that all moral choices are in the end arbitrary. A value free or relativistic social science takes away the ground from making choices.

On the political level, a value-free social science does not allow us to differentiate better regimes from worse ones. A value free social science does not allow us to condemn tyranny or to praise democracy.

A distinguishing feature of democracies is that they allow for the peaceful coexistence of diverse ways of life within the same larger democratic community.

Psychology

Mental Illness

Modern explanations of mental illnesses focus upon physiological rather that psychological factors. It is nearly always the insufficiency or excess of a particular substance in the brain that is the problem. Prior experiences, especially the traumatising sort, are rarely acknowledged as factors  causing mental illness. Are we to believe that traumatic experience has no effect on the amount of substances in the brain?

Feelings and Chemicals

Another example of the emphasis on the link between feelings and chemicals in the brain is the claim by scientists that what makes people hungry is the presence of a particular chemical in the brain.

Emotional Desensitisation

This is a condition where a person has become desensitised to the point where he finds few experiences ‘moving.’  When he witnesses a person’s misfortune, he remains unmoved; his ability to feel has diminished. His heart has become hard. And what is the significance of this desensitisation?

Age of Rage

Why do a few people find it so hard to restrain themselves?

Repression and Depression

At one time some people believed they suffered from sexual repression. They felt that they would be a lot happier if they could escape from the restrictions placed on their freedom by religion, parents, and their inhibitions. It seems that many people now suffer from a new and perhaps related condition – depression.

Positive Attitude

To live well it is important to have a positive attitude.